Learned optimism involves developing the ability to view the world from a positive point of view. It is often contrasted with learned helplessness. By challenging negative self-talk and replacing pessimistic thoughts with more positive ones, people can learn how to become more optimistic.
There are a number of benefits to becoming a more optimistic person. Some of the many advantages of optimism that researchers have discovered include:
- Better health outcomes: A meta-analysis of 83 studies found that optimism played a significant role in health outcomes for cardiovascular disease, cancer, pain, physical symptoms and mortality.1
- Longer lifespan: Studies have shown that optimistic people tend to live longer than pessimists.2
- Lower stress levels: Optimists not only experience less stress, but they also cope with it better. They tend to be more resilient and recover from setbacks more quickly Rather than becoming overwhelmed and discouraged by negative events, they focus on making positive changes that will improve their lives.3
- Higher motivation: Becoming more optimistic can also help you maintain motivation when pursuing goals. When trying to lose weight, for example, pessimists might give up because they believe diets never work. Optimists, on the other hand, are more likely to focus on positive changes they can make that will help them reach their goals.
- Better mental health: Optimists report higher levels of well-being than pessimists. Research also suggests that teaching learned optimism techniques can significantly reduce depression.
In one study, children with risk factors for depression were placed in a training program where they were taught skills related to learned optimism.4 The results of the study revealed that children with the risk factors were much more likely to show symptoms of moderate to severe depression at a two-year follow-up. However, those who had received training in learned optimism and anti-depression skills were half as likely to develop such symptoms of depression.
Optimism vs. Pessimism
Pessimists tend to believe that bad things are simply bound to happen, that they are at fault, and that negative outcomes will be permanent. Optimists, on the other hand, expect that good things will happen to them. They tend to see setbacks as temporary events caused by circumstances. Rather than giving up or feeling helpless in the face of failure, optimists view it as a challenge that can be overcome or fixed.
Optimists and pessimists tend to differ in terms of explanatory style, or how they go about explaining the events that take place in their lives. Key differences in these explanatory styles tend to be centered on:
- Personalization: When things go wrong, optimists tend to lay the blame on external forces or circumstances. Pessimists, on the other hand, are more likely to blame themselves for the unfortunate events in their lives. At the same time, optimists tend to view good events as being a result of their own efforts, while pessimists link good outcomes to external influences.
- Permanence: Optimists tend to view bad times as temporary. Because of this, they also tend to be better able to bounce back after failures or setbacks. Pessimists are more likely to see negative events as permanent and unchangeable. This is why they are often more likely to give up when things get tough.
- Pervasiveness: When optimists experience failure in one area, they do not let it influence their beliefs about their abilities in other areas. Pessimists, however, view setbacks as more pervasive. In other words, if they fail at one thing, they believe they will fail at everything.